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Understanding the differences between of apprentices versus interns

November 16, 2022 - 14 min read

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So what does “apprenticeship” mean?

What’s an internship? 

So, what’s the difference between an apprentice and an intern?

Which one is best for you?

Starting a new job is scary — especially if you have no experience in the field. If you’re looking to break into a new industry but don’t know where to start, we understand. 

If sitting in a classroom isn’t really your thing or you’re already bored of it, you might be itching to start working. That’s why getting real work experience in your field of study seems like the best option. 

Sound familiar? You might be a great candidate for an apprenticeship or internship. But what do you do as an apprentice versus an intern, and how do you know which is right for you?

Both are training programs that aim to give you working experience, expose you to new work environments, and teach you necessary skills. They offer a learning-by-doing approach, and it’s been found that 77% of participants agreed that learning-by-doing helped them better understand new content and was more engaging than classroom instruction. 

Learning the key differences between these work opportunities will give you insight into what these training programs are like, which is a better fit for your career goals, and how you can excel in them. 

Before we dive into the key differences between the two, let’s break down what an apprenticeship and internship are.

So what does “apprenticeship” mean?

An apprenticeship is a training program that lets individuals learn new skills hands-on while being compensated for working. Apprenticeships offer on-the-job training for future workers to gain hands-on experience in any industry.

During an apprenticeship, you’ll likely work with experienced employees in the field who will guide you through how to use equipment, software, and tools properly. 

Many trades rely on apprenticeships to balance classroom learning with hands-on experience that ensures apprentices have the skills required for a role. Electricians, for example, need to complete a set number of hours to receive their certification. Some electricians may attend technical schools or programs, but many spend 4–5 years in an apprenticeship program.  

Because apprentices are completing hands-on tasks, they’re usually paid during these programs.  

Apprenticeships have been on the rise since 2011. Between 2020 and 2021, there were approximately 27,000 active registered apprenticeship programs across the U.S. Here are a few industries that commonly offer apprenticeships:

  • Engineering 

  • Manufacturing

  • Cosmetology 

  • Construction

  • Transportation
  • Healthcare
  • Energy

How long do apprenticeships last?

It all depends on your industry and the skills you need to become certified. Many apprenticeships are the same length as a bachelor’s degree (3–4 years), but others might only span one year. 

Usually, you don’t need any prior certifications to apply for apprenticeships. You’ll be able to start in an entry-level position as an apprentice with the long-term goal of becoming a full-time employee when you’re done.

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What’s an internship? 

An internship is a short-term, entry-level job opportunity. Throughout an internship, individuals will gain experience in a workplace to learn about certain roles and companies while gaining insight into a broader industry. 

Many interns are in support roles, working alongside employees or executives at a company to help them complete their tasks and do some grunt work. They’re all about absorbing knowledge while contributing your fresh perspective to a workplace.

inspired-students-walking-on-a-aisle-apprentice-vs-intern

The work you do may vary since you’re only a temporary employee, but you’ll be expected to perform some routine tasks and support your supervisor in their role. You’ll likely contribute ideas, try your hand at new tools, and have work responsibilities of your own.

Above all, internships are an opportunity to learn about yourself and what you want out of your career. If you’re working as a design intern for a fashion company, you may realize that late nights at sewing machines aren’t for you — and a 9–5 role in the marketing department better supports your interests.

You might be a summer analyst for an investment firm and realize that the thrill of shifting markets and long hours is where you want to be. 

It’s estimated that over 1.3 million interns are currently working in the U.S., including both paid and unpaid positions, plus students and non-students. 

Here are some of the most common industries with interns:

How long do internships last?

Interns are usually students completing a placement for course credit or degree requirements, like for their bachelor’s or master’s degree. They could also be students hoping to gain relevant experience over the summer or after graduation to improve their chances of landing a great job right out of school. They usually last 12–24 weeks, depending on the industry.

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So, what’s the difference between an apprentice and an intern?

Now that you know more about each type of training program, it’s time to learn the key differences. Both apprenticeships and internships are great learning opportunities but understanding what each program offers will help you make the best decision for you and your career development

Here are some key differences between internships and apprenticeships to review:

Duration

  • Internship: One of the biggest differences between an internship and an apprenticeship is the duration. An internship usually only lasts a couple of months or up to one year, depending on the industry.
  • Apprenticeship: An apprenticeship is a long-term commitment. You’ll likely work full-time for several years, depending on the level of apprenticeship. Many apprenticeships are beginner-level but still provide excellent upskilling opportunities for experienced workers.

student-watching-while-technician-explains-apprentice-vs-intern

Structure

  • Internship: The structure of an internship is looser and less focused, so interns can float around and observe more roles within an office. One day you could shadow a senior-level employee, and the next, you could have a report to write for your direct manager. Internships can also be done remotely, meaning learning could be asynchronous.

  • Apprenticeship: An apprenticeship thrives on structure and planning. Most apprenticeships focus on improving specific skills. They’re almost always in person to meet experiential learning requirements.

Payment

  • Internship: You aren’t guaranteed a paid internship. Research has found that 39% of internships in the U.S. are unpaid, so be prepared for a period without income. But that’s not to say that you can’t find an internship offering a stipend, honorarium, or requisite school credit.

  • Apprenticeship: You do get paid for apprenticeships from your first day to your last. Some even offer benefits, too. It’s considered full-time employment, and you might even see a pay increase as you gain new skills.

College credit

  • Internship: Internships are often offered or required for college students to earn credit. They might also help experienced employees switch industries by showing them entry-level tasks in another field.

  • Apprenticeships: As an apprentice, you could do your training program and attend classes simultaneously, but for many industries, the knowledge acquired through apprenticeships replaces college degrees.

Certification

  • Internship: Completing an internship doesn’t give you a certification or diploma. Apart from potential credit, an internship becomes work experience on your resume. And after you complete an internship, you aren’t guaranteed a job offer. In ideal scenarios, you’ll move from being an intern to a junior employee — but sometimes, you’ll need to take the experience you gained to another company.

  • Apprenticeship: The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that if you do your apprenticeship with a registered company, you’re entitled to an industry-recognized credential upon completion. It’s an official certification to show you’ve completed all requirements. Some apprenticeships also allow you to complete certain smaller certifications over the years to bolster your resume.

young-man-studying-on-his-laptop-apprentice-vs-intern

Which one is best for you?

Now that you understand the difference between an apprentice vs. an intern. Even though they seem similar, they differ in educational structure, length, pay, and more. To decide what’s best for you, expand your self-knowledge and identify your career aspirations

Depending on your industry, it might not be up to you. Your field of interest might require that you follow the apprenticeship route. More hands-on careers need you to do apprenticeships, like millwrights or designers. Other industries, like marketing or finance, lean toward internships that teach transferable skills. 

For some careers, it’s up to you to decide which suits your professional goals. If you’re a civil engineer, you’ll want to find out if an apprenticeship on a job site or an internship in an office will better prepare you for your dream career.

And in the end, whichever program you choose will put you one step further down your career path.

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Published November 16, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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